The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 71


Hamilton defends the provision of the constitution for a presidential term of four-years. Some alleged that this was too long a term and would increase the risk of the president amassing too much power. However, Hamilton defends the four-year term from the perspective of energy. He argues that a term of four years will give the president the ability to counteract temporary passions or influences of faction that may from time to time convulse the American people and their representatives in Congress. It is the duty of the executive, according to Hamilton, to protect the interests of the people and the greater good of the nation, even when the people may, as a result of being deceived or manipulated, demand the adoption of flawed policy.

Hamilton furthermore argues that a term of four years will enable the president to pursue policies he feels best. If the term were too short, the president might not be willing to make bold, perhaps controversial decisions since to do so would risk incurring the ire of the people and perhaps cost him reelection.


This paper continues Hamilton’s defense of energy in the office of the presidency. Hamilton believed that having an energetic executive—that is, a president with true power and influence—was essential to building a strong union. He is trying to strike a balance between the republican values, which emphasize the role of the people’s will in making policy, and the need for stable, effective and wise government. Hamilton asserts that the republican principle does not require that government act on “every sudden breeze of passion” that may influence the views of the people. Although the people usually “intend the public good,” they do not always “reason right about the means of promoting it.” Therefore, it is essential that the executive have sufficient independence and power to wisely determine the public good and counterbalance the influence of the less stable and more excitable legislature.

Predictably, Hamilton’s position roused the ire of the anti-federalists, who often valued liberty and independence over stability and efficiency. Throughout modern history, many political scientists and historians have commented on the inherent tension between the supremacy of popular opinion and the preservation of political stability. Alexis D’Tocqueville, for example, warned about the risk of a “dictatorship of the majority” in democratic systems. Since democratic systems are fundamentally based on the will of the people, there is always a risk that the majority faction will adopt policies that seem wise but are actually disastrous. Hamilton felt it was important to have a strong executive at the top to counterbalance such excesses.